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The tree, located just west of the Log Cabin building on a popular stretch of the foreshore, was cut down on Monday by tree service company Asplundh.
Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) communications manager Meaghan Miller said felling the dying tree was a "very simple decision" based on safety.
"That's really the simple test that we apply. It's difficult because they [Wanaka's lakefront willows] are iconic and council recognises that and that's why we have a replanting programme."
The Wanaka Community Board was briefed about the unhealthy state of the tree last month and parks manager Gordon Bailey was asked to check the willow was beyond saving.
A second inspection confirmed the tree was endangering visitors to the foreshore.
Wanaka Community Board chairman and Queenstown Lakes deputy mayor Lyal Cocks said while some people considered the lakefront willows an integral part of Wanaka's landscape worth preserving, those views had to be balanced with public safety.
"It could have caused a problem during the busy summer season.
"Trees have a finite life and in the next planting round we'll plant replacement trees."
Other people complained about there being too many trees blocking the view of Lake Wanaka from the town centre and a planned foreshore management plan review would carefully consider the appropriate placement of any new trees, Mr Cocks said.